Pat Mills has done it all in comics – 2000AD, Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine, Flesh… He’s the British Stan Lee for my money, still working at the sharp end.
Alongside artist Kevin O’Neill (they both worked on Nemesis, Ro-Busters and the ABC Warriors), Mills has moved into novels with Serial Killer – the first in a quartet set in the world of British comics from the 1970s onwards.
Here, Pat Black speaks to Pat Mills about life, the universe and 2000AD.
Booksquawk: The references to real-life elements in the UK comics industry in the 1970s and 80s made me chuckle – Angus, Angus & Angus, Fleetpit, etc. Do you miss that world?
Pat Mills: A lot. It was so ridiculous and funny. Today's comic world is a humourless place. So it was fun to recreate the "Comic Life on Mars".
B: Serial Killer is merciless when it comes to poking fun at the war-themed comic strips. You helped to change the game by writing different/more realistic war stories, particularly Charley’s War. What were your feelings about that genre back then?
PM: Before Battle and Charley's War, war stories were often ludicrous. Sergeants Four, for example, in Jet where an English sergeant, a Scottish sergeant, a... well, you get the idea!... tied knots in tank barrels with their bare hands. Sigh!
B: Do you think all those comic titles disappeared in the 1990s as a result of changing times, new technologies and squeezed markets, or were there other forces at play?
PM: Comic pros today largely subscribe to this view. That way they don't have to try again. It's complacent nonsense. The truth is - we all of us got it wrong, we neglected the mainstream readers, and especially young readers and paid the price. That's too painful for most to admit.
But the proof is - Marvel and DC survived the 90s... Games Workshop - which started same time as us on 2000AD are a high street name... French comics are as strong as ever.
The forces at play were a slavish love of elitist and sophisticated fandom in preference to the normal reader in the street.
B: Bearing the above in mind, do you think there’s any way forward for new comics catering for today’s kids?
PM: Absolutely. There's always a way, if it's something you want to do. But it's more a matter of preference. There's no desire to appeal to kids. Although they'll sometimes pretend to. Most professionals would rather appeal to 40-year-old collectors. Kids are much harder to work for - as I cover in my second book Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! 2000AD and Judge Dredd: The Secret History. That's why I like the challenge, but I'm in a minority.
Everyone seems to forget - comics started with kids! And where are they now? Gone!
B: I see there’s a collected edition of classic Hook Jaw on the way – it’s top of my Christmas list. We also saw a new version of that old favourite, recently - do you like what they did with it?
PM: I think there was a Titan new Hook Jaw book which I didn't read good reviews about. The collected original Hook Jaws I wrote the intro for. It delivers!
B: How did you and Kevin approach your collaboration on the novel?
PM: Kevin and I wrote a sitcom together which was greenlit by a BBC producer (Gareth Edwards - Spaced) but then turned down for being too niche. So I adapted it to include in the novel with further contributions by Kevin.
B: Give us a flavour of what’s in store in the remaining parts of Read ‘Em And Weep.
PM: Book One: Serial Killer covers the Battle years. Book Two: Good Night, John Boy I'm just writing covers Action and the start of 2000AD (in fictional form). Book Three: 2000AD years. Book Four: Misty era.
The protagonist, the Liquorice Detective, searches for his mother's killer as well as creating comics. There's one scene in Book Two - adapted from the sitcom - where he faces a hostile media presenter who hates his comic Aaagh! It could well remind readers of the famous real life scene where Frank Bough (before the scandal about him broke) tore up a copy of Action live on BBC TV. Only the outcome in our story is funnier!
B: What’s your next project in comics?
PM: I've been so busy writing Be Pure... my second text book, I haven't had much chance to pursue comic projects as well.
Certainly I need to finish a serial I've started with Simon Bisley - featuring Joe Pineapples and Ro-Jaws from ABC Warriors and Ro-Busters.
Read our review of Serial Killer here.